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James Pond II: Codename: RoboCod

Genre: Platformer Developer: Millennium Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1 Released: 1991

The younger of you may not remember James Pond, but those of you who remember the 16-bit era will no doubt have spent many happy hours glued to your consoles playing Pond’s latest adventure. He was a bit of a video game icon, you see. Starring in games across the various systems, Pond was an Agent of F.I.5.H, and featured in several platform games, as well as other diversions, such as Aquatic Games – a kind of Track ‘n’ Water game. Of all his adventures, though, Codename: Robocod is arguably his most well-known. Which is odd, as it is, in my opinion, one of the poorer efforts in the franchise.

Looking back on things now, Pond spent a surprisingly small amount of time underwater. Although his original game was given a sub-aqua setting, this game sees Pond fitted with a bio-suit that allows him to operate above the surface, while Operation Starfish (our Jim’s third effort) was set on the moon! So ditching his flippers for snow shoes, we join Pond as he battles the villainous Dr. Maybe, who has taken control of Santa’s grotto. The fiend.

This is one of the few ‘seasonal’ games that I can think of (the Christmas edition of NiGHTS released temporarily on the Sega Saturn being the only other to come to mind), and as such the game’s appeal is limited. While getting it out to play through each festive season has become almost a tradition for me, playing the game in the summer seems wrong somehow, which is the game’s main downfall. A pity, as it’s Christmas atmosphere is what makes the game so charming.

The control is very responsive, and a new level of strategy is introduced by the fact that the Robocod suit allows pond to stretch up into the sky with the tap of a button, to reach hidden platforms and bonus items. While this sounds like a medieval form of torture, it doesn’t seem to affect our fishy friend at all, so the RSPCA need not be concerned.

The structure of the game will be familiar to anyone who has any experience of platforming in the 16-bit era: The main game area is the outside of the castle-like grotto. At first only a few doors are open, each leading to a level. Completing the levels opens up more doors… you know the drill. Each level is very distinctive – usually given a theme, such as sport toys, or candy. One level is even based around the good ol’ bathtub! On most levels you must locate the bombs set by the Dastardly Dr. Maybe, and deactivate them. For reasons best known to Maybe, the bombs are disguised as penguins….. The levels are brightly coloured and very well designed – unlike many platformers it seems that the same level of effort went into designing the later stages as the earlier ones, which is refreshing, as many games in the genre seem to get stale before the end. There is also a pleasingly large number of levels. It’ll take a good few hours to play through the game. Power-ups such as wings (let you fly – but you’d guessed that already, right?) and umbrellas (let you float) liven things up a bit, and stop any monotony before it can creep in.

The music and effects are not really noteworthy, although the fact that the tunes include digital renditions of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” only serves to reiterate the fact that this game just doesn’t feel right for eleven months of the year. Which is a pity, as this game could have been an all-time classic. As it is, it’s still a terrific game, just as long as you play it at the right time of year…

SCORE: 6 out of 10

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